Here are ten powerful ideas and practices to boost and then maintain your mental health.
It’s never been more important to take responsibility for our own mental health. From global pandemics to the stress of juggling family and working life the demands upon us all only ever seem to grow. Having well established habits and practices that boost and maintain your mental health not only make day-to-day life easier it means that when life hits you with a curve ball, which invariably it will, you already have good practices in place that you can draw upon to see you through.
Here then, in no particular order, are ten powerful ideas for you to try.
Happiness chemicals and how to hack them
Oxytocin is the love hormone, but you don’t need to be in the throes of a new relationship to enjoy it. Here are some simple ideas on how to release the love drug:
- Play with a cat, dog or family pet
- Listen to music that you love
- Try yoga
- Cuddles, hugs and massages (obviously a bit more of a challenge these days – but if someone is in your bubble these all count)
- Give compliments and do something nice for someone else
- Call a friend or relative and enjoy a good, meaningful conversation
- Enjoy a really decent cup of coffee (not the stuff from a tin but proper, ground beans!)
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) as well as being a mood stabiliser it also effects anxiety, irritability, fatigue and insomnia. Here’s what boosts serotonin:
- Walking in nature
- Exercise – including yoga, swimming and cycling
- Bright light and sunshine – 10 to 15 minutes per day (lunchtime is ideal)
- Massage (whilst this might be tricky during Covid maybe you could do massage swaps with your family – there’s nothing like a gentle neck or head massage)
- Recalling a very happy memory or funny time
Reframe and mindset
Hindsight often gives us plenty to be able to reframe the past with when we can see what we gained, learned or got out of a certain event experience which at the time was difficult. In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) replacing a negative with a positive is called a reframe. can try to explore the power of the reframe whenever you realise you are thinking something that is not helpful. For example you could reframe, ‘when will this all end?’ with ‘I am in control of this moment – what shall I do right now?’ You can even reframe, ‘sorry I am late to this zoom call,’ with ‘thank you so much for waiting.’
Another great way to break an unwelcome thought process is doing a simple breathing exercise. You can place your hands on your tummy, close your mouth and breathe gently through your nose. Notice the flow of air in and out of your body, the rise and fall of your chest and how your hands move in flow with your breathing. Hundreds of clinical trials have proven that breath work has a profound effect on the mind, body and spirit.
I can hear you shouting, ‘what on earth have we got to be grateful for?’ But bear with me. Practising gratitude is a game changer and what better time to start to rewire your brain and create new neurological circuits than when life is challenging. It’s empowering doing something for yourself that makes a difference. So take the gratitude challenge and flip the negativity and anxiety of lockdown. Here are three ways to start practising gratitude today!
- each day think if 3 unique things you are grateful for. You can’t use obvious things an repeat them – the idea is to think about and seek out new reasons to be grateful.
- start a gratitude journal writing down and committing yourself every day to record the positives, the blessings and the things you are grateful for.
- express your gratitude – start noticing your interact with those around you. Show your appreciation or recognition. Tell people how you feel about them and the things you value in them. Thanks colleagues who have helped you out or made a positive contribution.
The more you practice gratitude the more it grows. It’s really rather marvellous and it’s backed by vast amounts of robust clinical evidence!
The power of nature cannot be underestimated. It’s where our bodies are designed to be. Nature grounds, energises and recharges us. It enables us to get a fresh perspective on our problems and is the best ‘time out,’ you can get. Whether it’s a walk in the park, a stomp in the woods or a beach walk schedule in some time to be outside, even ten minutes in your grade counts. When you are outside see if you can enjoy some mindful moments using your senses to see, feel, hear and notice the natural world. Connect with your wonder and gratitude for the natural world and its calming and restorative gifts. You might like to practise some gently breathing or try an earthing or grounding exercise which we cover in some of our other blogs.
Meditate & Breathing
There is a huge amount of research on the powerful effects of meditation. There are many books to guide, apps and videos that you can access listen to show you how. Even just ten minutes every morning or evening practicing meditation will make a huge difference to your quality of life and well-being. If you don’t fancy meditation then use your breath as a way to centre and connect, also to calm and soothe (as described in the Perspective and reframe heading above). Practice some gentle breaths for a few minutes every morning and or evening and you will soon establish a beautiful calming ritual into your day. You could even do your breathing as you wait for the kettle to boil or as you shower!
Make time for joy
What makes you smile? What makes your soul shine and lifts your spirits? And are you making the time to do this? With so many of us now working from home or having to adjust to new schedules it’s even easier to fill our days with even more jobs. Being so busy that we don’t make time for ourselves and our own well-being is common place. This is a gentle reminder that it’s essential to put your well being at the top of list. So get your thinking cap on and plan some soul food into your weekly routine. Fun time doesn’t isn’t necessarily spontaneous – sometimes we have to make it happen.We all have ‘that record’ that takes us back to happy memories and good times.
Now for anyone who says there is nothing at all they can do from home that could bring them joy – what about music? Music is good for the soul and it’s free! Classical music is the best vibrational music for our soul and the bodies spiritual energy system but if there’s a disco track that helps you connect with happiness or enables you to lose yourself in the music then go for it – dance like no one’s watching!
Routine of relaxation
When we care for babies we establish a bedtime routine so that we can wind them down and prepare them for sleep. When we are stuck at home during lockdown routines get a bit blurred, the day can drift and one day rolls into another leaving us feeling lost and unfulfilled. We are creatures of habit and we draw comfort from our routines much more than we might realise. Putting some structure in your day is very useful. Simple things like a work schedule that you stick to (which includes coffee breaks, lunchtime and an end time) will make a huge difference. Maybe pulling on some ‘work’ clothes – even jeans and a tee rather than staying in pjs helps give structure. Take a break and sit outside in some fresh air if you can over lunch – build in some gaps as it’s easy to overwork and do too much when your at home. Try to develop your own evening ritual that enable you to relax and switch off. Think of some simple steps that you can do that might enable you to ‘end’ your working day and slip into an attitude of relaxation and down time. Maybe a shower and a change of clothes could mark the end to your working day? Maybe you could sit and spend five minutes reflecting on your day and writing in your gratitude journal? What can you do, or what series of things can you do to create a routine that enables you to officially switch off ? Anything that we do with intention becomes a ritual, so you can choose whatever works for you and in a very short period of time it will become an established practice.
It’s easy for us to get stuck in a routine so what can you do to feel inspired? Is there something new that you can try? There are many online courses, classes, workshops and programmes out there. Learning something new makes us feel inspired and interested. If you don’t fancy a course then pick up a book or read something that’s inspirational. Search out an inspirational teacher and listen to a podcast – people like Jack Kornfield, Byron Katie and Dr Joe Dispenza are all fabulous.
When we are engaged in something we love to do we practice mindfulness – we become absorbed in the moment! And mindfulness is proven to be a game changer for the fraught and anxious mind. Instead of collapsing on the sofa and turning the telly on as you open your phone or laptop is there something else you might enjoy trying? Whether it is doing a jigsaw, sketching or drawing, colouring, baking, reading, listening to music, exercising or even enjoying the art of conversation – think about the things that you could enjoy doing of an evening or at the weekends that you really enjoy.
Stretch and move
Routine is really important to us especially when times are challenging so why not start the day with some gentle stretches, a yoga routine or a brief walk. The benefits of exercise are well documented – and now more than ever there are a wealth of activities we can do from our own home. Experts say that even ten minutes can make a huge difference to relaxing and unwinding as well as boosting mood, immunity and well-being. It’s great for anxiety and depression too! Even a gentle walk is good for the mind, body and spirit and get’s you out of the house. Often when we step outside our mood shifts and we feel better.
Mobile phones are a fantastic advancement in technology – but they come with a price. Our mobile phones are also a constant temptation – whether that’s checking emails, news feeds or social media the addictiveness of our mobile phones is easy to see. And yet time where we literally unplug ourselves from our electronic devices is essential. Limit your news intake to minimise the constant bombardment of negative news. Social media can also be a source of stress so pay attention and be mindful about how much time you spend on these accounts and how they make you feel. If they make you feel uptight or frustrated limit your contact time or maybe even close the account.
Experts recommend turning your phone, laptop, iPad off at least two hours before you go to bed – this will enable your brain to switch off and wind down – it will also improve sleep and believe it or not help you to be more focused and alert the next day. So set a time when you know you can put down your phone and turn it off (maybe even put it out of sight to limit temptation!) You might like to do this every evening at a certain time – say 8 or 9pm and then again at a certain time over the weekend. Maybe you could have a technology break every Sunday from 11am onwards? The more often you do this the more quickly you will establish the habit. If it helps start small and build up – so put your phone down half an hour before bed and work up to one and then maybe even two hours.
As well as a much needed mental break switching off will also free up your time, allow you to be more fully engaged in what you’re doing and help you get back into the practise of being present and not distracted.
So there you have it – ten powerful ways you can maximise and maintain your mental health. Remember that the more we do something the easier it becomes so small steps frequently done are better than grand gestures once in a while. As they say, annoying so, practice makes perfect. It’s also really important to ‘cut yourself some slack,’ as the saying says. Try as far as possible to treat yourself with kindness. It’s fine to have unproductive days. It’s okay to honour your emotions and flow with how you’re feeling.
We hope these suggestions make a difference and as always feel free to email [email protected] us if you would like to discuss this further.
Fiona And Gavin